Yes, it's true. The FBI had a file on Steve Jobs. It's not what you might think, though. The FBI performed a "level III" background investigation on Jobs as a potential presidential appointee in 1991. He was described by most witnesses as an "individual of good character and integrity" that would be suitable for a "position of trust and confidence with the Government." Jobs also had a brush with the FBI when Apple received a bomb threat in 1985.

According to one of the filings, Jobs was being considered for an appointment to the President's Export Council in early 1991. This was while Jobs was president of NeXT computer. (This would have been during George H. W. Bush's term.)

The file is 191 pages (as a PDF) and was requested by Michael Morisy of MuckRock. Morisy says that he became curious about Jobs' "behind-the-scenes" interactions with government after Jobs' death. "He was a famously private man, and almost apolitical in a lot of ways, but regularly courted for his opinion and advice.

"Government documents are also just generally a great way to get a look at public figures' lives: You can get a behind the scenes view that's otherwise not available, whether that's past legal trouble, quietly helping the feds or receiving death threats, and I think all of that is a valuable part of the story."

What the Documents Reveal

According to the memo outlining the investigation (page 160), Jobs would have been in a position to "make decisions concerning policy and personnel matters." The questions about Jobs related to drug use, whether he lived within his means, his trustworthiness and whether there was evidence of prejudice or bias on his part. According to the memo "the last 10 years of appointee's life must be accounted for."

Almost all of the people interviewed by the FBI seemed to give Jobs high marks, though there's at least one individual (name redacted) interviewed on March 11, 1991 who said Jobs was "not totally forthright and honest" and "has a tendency to distort reality in order to achieve his goals." (Perhaps that's where the phrase "Jobs Reality Distortion Field" came from...) Also interesting, the same individual said that Jobs was suitable for a "high level political position" in government because "in his opinion, honestly and integrity are not prerequisites to assume such a position."

The last section of the document details a bomb threat to Apple in February 1985 that turned out to be a hoax. The FBI doesn't seem to have found the caller.

It might sound like 191 pages would contain a wealth of information. However, much of the documents consist of government paperwork and coversheets that convey very little. (They do reveal that being in the FBI does not actually require neat penmanship.) The file also contains records of suits Jobs was involved with when with Apple and NeXT. There's very little in the document that's not already public knowledge.

But it's interesting to comb through and see what kind of information the FBI had on Jobs, and likely has on a number of other public figures. If you want to do your own Freedom of Information Act (FOI) requests, you can use MuckRock as a tool to do so. Morisy says that MuckRock tries to make "a really important, but really tedious, part of journalism and make it fun, social and easy for both journalists and regular users. For the first time, anyone can request almost any government document with just a few clicks and we think that's a really powerful tool for transparency."